Singaporean shipping company Pacific Carriers Limited has been fined $12 million in a U.S. federal court after pleading guilty to concealing illegal discharges of oily water and garbage.
PCL was sentenced on Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge Louise Flanagan in New Bern, North Carolina after pleading guilty to violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, Obstruction of Justice, and Failure to Notify the U.S. Coast Guard of a Hazardous Condition. The charges are related to the MV Pac Antares, a 586-foot bulk carrier owned and operated by two PCL subsidiaries. The Chief Engineer of the vessel was also convicted.
In total, the company agreed to eight felony offenses across three judicial districts and sentenced to pay a $12 million fine, placed on probation for a period of four years, and ordered to implement a special Environmental Compliance Plan.
In pleading guilty, PCL admitted that Pac Antares crew members knowingly failed to record in the vessel’s oil record book the overboard discharge of oily bilge water and oil waste without the use of required pollution-prevention equipment. PCL also admitted that the crew discharged oily garbage and plastic overboard and falsified the garbage record book.
PCL further admitted that a large space along the keel of the vessel, known as the duct keel, was being used to store oily waste which constituted a hazardous condition under the Ports and Waterways Safety Act.
The offenses occurred from approximately April 2019 until the vessel arrived in Morehead City, North Carolina, on September 29, 2019, when a crewmember walked off the ship and informed a Customs and Border Protection officer of what had taken place.
A U.S. Coast Guard inspection seized a large trove of evidence that oily waste and garbage had been discharged from the vessel to include a configuration of drums, flexible hoses and flanges to bypass the vessel’s oily water separator.
“Examiners also discovered that oily waste had been discharged through a laundry sink which subsequently discharged directly overboard or through the vessel’s sewage system,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a release. “Examiners discovered the sewage system was contaminated with oil. Crewmembers also admitted that bags filled with oily rags were thrown over the side of the ship… The examiners also found over 60,000 gallons of oily water being stored in the “duct keel” which took several days and a third-party contractor to properly clean out.”
The Chief Engineer, Wenguang Ye, has also pleaded guilty to falsifying the oil record book, and was sentenced to a fine of $5,500 and banned from entering the United States for one year after choosing to cooperate in the investigation.
In 2008, the Pac Antares was involved in another prosecution in Wilmington, North Carolina, for concealing the overboard discharge of oily bilge water and assessed a total criminal penalty of $2.1 million.
“This kind of deliberate evasion of our pollution control laws will not be tolerated,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Brightbill of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Environmental Crimes Section proudly works hand-in-hand with U.S. Attorneys Offices and law enforcement partners around the country to investigate and prosecute the intentional violation of our laws that protect our oceans by commercial ship owners, operators, and personnel. It’s also essential that we demand the safe operation of ships in our ports.”